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8 reviews/ratings
SOEN - Imperial Progressive Metal | review permalink
MOTORPSYCHO - The All is One Non-Metal | review permalink
THERION - Leviathan Symphonic Metal | review permalink
ROYAL HUNT - The Mission Progressive Metal | review permalink
ROYAL HUNT - The Watchers Progressive Metal | review permalink
MOTORPSYCHO - The Crucible Non-Metal | review permalink
MOTORPSYCHO - The Tower Non-Metal | review permalink
ANGRA - Rebirth Power Metal | review permalink

Metal Genre Nb. Rated Avg. rating
1 Non-Metal 3 3.33
2 Progressive Metal 3 3.67
3 Symphonic Metal 1 3.50
4 Power Metal 1 3.00

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ANGRA Rebirth

Album · 2001 · Power Metal
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Rebirth: it would have been hard to find a more fitting title for Angra’s fourth full-length album, the first after the band split in two and was left for dead at the time by many specialized magazines. Singer Andre Matos and the entire rhythm section comprised of Luís Mariutti and Ricardo Confessori departed to form Shaman, leaving guitarists Kiko Loureiro and Rafael Bittencourt to pick up the pieces. The duo recruited Felipe Andreoli (bass), Aquiles Priester (drums) and Edu Falaschi (vocals) to try and keep the Angra ship alive. But the album does not feel like a rebirth just in terms of its revolutionized line-up. It is also a musical rebirth, after a record, Fireworks, that was probably too ambitious for its own good and ultimately felt a bit like a mixed bag.

Rebirth does not waste any time to let the listener know that things have changed. In this sense, opener (after the obligatory orchestral intro) “Nova Era” is a strong statement of intents. The Brazilian folk experimentations of the past line-up are considerably toned down (though they still surface on a couple of songs) in favour of a more direct and fast-tempo speed/power metal approach that immediately showcases the talents of the new line-up, particularly of drummer Aquiles Priester and singer Edu Falaschi. Although Falaschi does not have the unique charm of Matos’ voice, his range is impressive and his crystalline delivery shows that Angra have found an excellent substitute for their iconic former singer. Elsewhere the album moves in more progressive territories, with songs (“Millennium Sun”, “Unholy Wars”, “Running Alone”) built around complex structures, tempo changes, extended instrumental passages, and great orchestral arrangements, courtesy of Günter Werno from German prog metallers Vanden Plas.

These tracks are what elevates Rebirth above the standard power metal sound that one can find aplenty on albums released in the late 1990s / early 2000s. At the same time, the music is more streamlined, direct and powerful than what typically characterizes a prog metal release. In this way, Rebirth walks the fine line between the two worlds, pleasing fans of standard European (and especially Italian) power metal as well as those of more progressively-inclined bands like Queensrÿche and Dream Theatre.

In large part, Rebirth is a success story as the tunes are pleasant, accessible and at the same time sufficiently varied and multifaceted to keep things interesting. But, as a prog metal aficionado, I cannot help but miss the drive to experiment and push things forward and in unexpected directions that had characterized the earlier work of the band. It is particularly songs like “Acid Rain”, “Heroes of Sand” and “Judgment Day” that haven’t aged very well: lacking a strong melodic presence and deprived of interesting forward-thinking moments, these tracks fall a bit flat and bog down an album that remains nevertheless better than average.

[Also posted on and]

SOEN Imperial

Album · 2021 · Progressive Metal
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Well, here I am, in the first week of February, already holding in my hands what is very likely to become my Album of the Year in 2021: Imperial, Soen's fifth album, is an amazing record that has haunted my CD player since its release ten days ago and will very likely continue to do so for at least a few more weeks. I must have listened to this album at least 50 times already, and I still do not seem to get enough of it. Yes, it is THAT good!

Packed with smashing grooves, soaring guitar solos and incredibly catchy melodies, this is easily the strongest album released by the band so far. And I am not saying this as a newcomer to Soen’s sound. I have been following the band since their second album, 2014’s Tellurian. Their blend of groovy progressive metal - built in equal parts of technical proficiency and emotional intensity, intricate riffs and melancholic melodies - is right up my alley, given how I feed on a diet of dark, atmospheric prog metal in the vein of Katatonia, Leprous, Riverside, Opeth and Anathema. Yet, until today, my attitude towards Soen has only been lukewarm, at best. I dug what they have been trying to do, but until now I have always had issues with the end-result of their albums, be it for a subpar sound production (their third album Lykaia was literally butchered by the sound engineer), or for a songwriting approach that has always sounded to me as in need of a good injection of dynamics and a healthy dose of fat trimming to craft songs with nothing but their strongest parts.

Imperial is exactly the album I was hoping one day Soen would write. It takes the best parts of their sound and condenses them in to eight, strikingly lean, gloriously dynamic, and instantly impactful tracks, where nothing is superfluous and every single instrument truly plays only for the song. In interviews, Soen’s main man and drummer Martin Lopez (ex-Opeth) hinted that this has partly to do with the involvement of Grammy-nominated sound engineer Kevin Churko, who mixed and mastered the album and encouraged the band to remove any superfluous elements that were getting in the way of the song. The choice of Churko may surprise Soen’s fans, given his previous involvement with acts that sound quite different than Soen, such as Papa Roach, Five Finger Death Punch, and In This Moment. But they need not worry: although Imperial does sound more modern, more immediate and punchier than Soen’s previous records, the album still retains the classic Soen sound. The intricate but groovy riffs and drum patterns are still there, and so are Joel Ekelöf’s soaring vocal melodies and Cody Ford’s emotional bluesy solos. Yet, everything sounds more compact, leaner, and more exciting than anything the band has every written before.

Ultimately, the strength of Imperial comes down to its truly brilliant songwriting. Its eight songs strike that perfect balance between (dare I say it?) pop accessibility and progressive complexity that elevates the album above most other modern rock/metal releases, not unlike Leprous 2019’s masterpiece Pitfalls. It is an extremely difficult achievement to accomplish. Writing hooks and catchy refrains that have an immediate impact on the listener is relatively easy. Combining them into compositions that retain artistic depth and remain interesting after repeated listens is much more difficult. On Imperial Soen miraculously achieve this by packing each song with a myriad of great ideas - be it a clever riff, a groovy drum fill, a cathartic guitar solo, or a memorable hook - without lingering too long on any of them, but moving quickly to the next one, in an breath-taking tourbillion of sounds that leave the listener astounded by its musical richness. This approach gives the songs an unpredictability and spontaneity that keeps them fresh and relevant even after multiple listens.

Soen are also very clever to avoid as much as possible formulaic song structures, by continuously varying the way Imperial’s eight songs are constructed. Take, for instance, Cody Ford’s solos. How many bands have you listened to where, in every song, the guitar solo falls invariably after the second repetition of the chorus? Too many to count. Cody’s solos are instead all over the place: after the chorus (“Deceive”), but sometimes after the first verse (“Illusion”), or between verse and bridge (“Modesty”), or in the middle of the middle-eight (“Antagonist”). It’s like Cody is playing whack-a-mole with the listener: you never quite know when to expect his poignant, Gilmouresque lead solos to pop up next. This is generally in line with the compositional manifesto that Soen seem to have followed on this album: to keep the listener guessing what new sound will come up next. Subtle variations to melodies and arrangements, countermelodies played with varying intensity in the repetitions of the chorus (“Antagonist”), eerie, mellotron-like string arrangements (“Modesty”, “Fortune”), sudden breakdowns where only Ekelöf’s voice and Lopez’s emphatic tom fills are left (“Antagonist”, “Dissident”) - Imperial has it all.

Amazingly, despite their complexity, the songs sound infectiously simple and immediate, partly due to the production but also thanks to the sensational vocal melodies that Ekelöf sings on the album, which contains what is easily his best performance to date, by far. But there is more to this: Ekelöf’s voice soars and impresses because the other instruments allow it to do so. There is such a tasteful restraint and subtlety in the other four musicians’ performances on this album that was not present on Soen’s previous records, where the band was instead following a “more is more” approach. This may disappoint some, as Lopez’s drumming is for instance less flamboyant and off-the-cuff than on previous records, but the songs have gained immensely from this newly-found discipline.

Imperial is a terrific release but, if I were to nitpick, the first half of the album is slightly weaker than the second half, which is more varied and contains the most inspired songs (“Antagonist”, “Modesty”, “Dissident”, “Fortune”). Part of the problem is that the first three songs of the album (“Lumerian”, “Deceive”, “Monarch”) sound just a little bit too similar to one another (same tempo, similar structure, similar vibes). I would have perhaps dropped “Deceive” from the trio, as it is probably the weakest song of the record anyway. Another minor complaint I have is that some songs (“Lumerian”, “Monarch”) do not so much come to an end as simply stop, without fully giving the listener that sense of resolve which is instead achieved on tracks like “Modesty” (that gorgeous line Ekelöf sings in the coda of the song gets me every single time). And, yes, Churko does occasionally exceed with modern production touches that feel a tad forced in the context of Soen’s sound (for instance, the processed, hard panned guitars that surface on a couple of songs, or the echoes on Ekelöf’s vocals that are perhaps used one time too many).

But these are really minor complaints. Imperial is an impressive piece of art that I consider the highest-point in Soen’s career so far. It is as inspired and inspiring as Lotus, but it is leaner, better arranged, and more immediate than that album, and it sounds much better for this. It is one of those records that it is really hard to put down because it sounds so fresh, so dynamic, so exciting that it just compels you to keep pressing “Play” again and again. At times, I have the impression that Imperial contains the material of twenty potential hit songs, just condensed into eight. It is a stunning achievement, which brings Imperial as close to perfection as only a handful of albums I have encountered in nearly 25 years of listening to (progressive) metal do.

[Originally written for The Metal Observer]

THERION Leviathan

Album · 2021 · Symphonic Metal
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In my experience, when an artist advertises their new work with the words “We have decided to give the people what they kept asking for”, that normally does not bode terribly well. However, if the man saying those words is Therion’s mastermind Christofer Johnsson, whose latest two controversial and fan-challenging releases are an album of French pop covers and a 3-hour, 46-track, narcolepsy-inducing triple-album, well, then we better listen carefully. Therion’s new album, Leviathan, does exactly what it says on the tin: deliver 45 minutes of “classic Therion” music, packed with memorable, instantly-likeable songs. A "commercial" sellout, you say? I disagree, I don’t really feel I can blame a band that has been pushing boundaries for 34 years of career for wanting to take it easy for once. Regardless of how genuine you feel this new artistic endeavour might be, one thing is for certain: one has to try really hard not to like at least some of the eleven songs on Leviathan.

The album is packed with everything we have come to love about the exquisite blend of symphonic/operatic metal that has defined Therion’s music since the mid-90s. Classic heavy metal riffs form the basis for epic and bombastic orchestral arrangements, striking a great balance between the sophistication of classical music and heavy metal grit. Tasteful folk influences seeps in on tracks like “Die Wellen der Zeit”, the Middle Eastern influenced “Aži Dahāka” and “Eye of Algol”, and “Ten Courts of Diyu” where we even find some Far Eastern music themes. Elsewhere, the album veers towards European power metal territories (“Great Marquis of Hell”; “El Primer Sol”), while gothic-tinged passages emerge as well throughout the record. Leviathan also literally brims with fantastic melodies and an impressive array of vocal styles, ranging from straight heavy metal belting, to melancholic female vocals, to majestic operatic singing.

The list of interpreters is no less exciting. Regular band members Thomas Vikström (tenor) and Lori Lewis (soprano) are joined by some great guest singers, including Marco Hietala (ex-Nightwish), Mats Levén (ex-Candlemass, ex-Yngwie Malmsteen), Noa Gruman (Scardust), Taida Nazraić (The Loudest Silence), Chiara Malvestiti (Crysalys) and Rosalía Sairem. Meanwhile, Israel’s Hellscore Choir directed by Noa Gruman provides lush and expansive backing vocals. The use of such a diverse and varied list of singers, who are often employed together in the same song, is one of the most remarkable features of the album that brings to mind the best work of rock-opera maestro Arjen Anthony Lucassen (Ayreon). On the instrumental side, Snowy Shaw and Björn Höglund share duties behind the drum kit, while the rest of the line-up is the same one that recorded the last few Therion albums (Christofer Johnsson on guitar/keyboards, Christian Vidal on lead guitar, and Nalle Påhlsson on bass).

If you are worried that Johnsson’s deliberate attempt at writing “hit songs” may have compromised the earnestness of the songwriting, that’s not the case: the music feels fresh, inspired, and fun. Sure, there’s nothing really revolutionary or experimental here, the album treads similar waters to Therion’s 90s/00s work (and after all that was the whole point of the record). But the eleven songs included on Leviathan are by no means just a rehashed, half-baked version of tracks one can find on Vovin or Secret of the Runes. These are songs that can hold up well to any previous output of the band, which, after 17 albums in a 34-year career, is no mean feat.

There isn’t a single bad song on the album: Leviathan is one of those records that you can put on and smoothly enjoy from the first to the last note. Nevertheless, a few tracks stand out for me. “Tuonela” is one of those, partly for Marco Hietala’s compelling vocal performance, partly for the beautifully constructed chorus that masterfully combines three melodic lines played by Hietala, the Hellscore chorus and two violins. “Die Wellen der Zeit” is a surprisingly simple ballad carried by the lush voice of Serbian singer Taida Nazraić, one of the most shining new talents enlisted on this record. “Nocturnal Light” is the other ballad and is another great track, more majestic and operatic, which gives me strong Vovin vibes. Meanwhile, the “Eye of Algol” is a multi-part Middle-Eastern-tinged beast that contains a really cool riff on the chorus, while “Ten Courts of Diyu” is a beautiful atmospheric piece that closes the album in style with a spine-tingling vocal performance by Noa Gruman and a nice guitar solo by Christian Vidal (if there’s one thing that I perhaps miss on this album is more spots for instrumental solos).

After the last couple of releases, Therion’s fans might be wary to approach Leviathan, but there is really no need to. If you are a fan of the band’s output between Theli and Gothic Kabbalah, this album will not disappoint you. Neither will it surprise you, but perhaps Therion’s fans have had enough surprises already in the past decade. Leviathan may be the most linear and accessible album that Therion have released in the past ten years, but there’s a catch: this is just the first installment of a trilogy of albums that Johnsson has already written up and is preparing to release in 2022 and 2023, respectively. The man seems incapable of writing less than 40 songs in one sitting! I don’t know about you, but after having listened to Leviathan, I very much look forward to the rest of the trilogy!

[Originally written for The Metal Observer]


Album · 2017 · Non-Metal
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In 2017 Motorpsycho released The Tower, a double-album that was to become the first instalment in their so called “Gullvåg Trilogy” of albums inspired by the art of painter Hakon Gullvåg, whose work graces the cover of The Tower as well as the subsequent two albums (2019’s The Crucible and 2020’s The All Is One). On this album bass player / vocalist Bent Sæther and guitarist Hans Magnus "Snah" Ryan pair with a new drummer, Tomas Järmyr, who replaces Kenneth Kapstad after a 9-year stint with the band. The album also marks an evolution in the sound of the Norwegian veterans, which veers more decidedly towards heavy rock territories, bringing back some of the influences that had coloured Motorpsycho’s early albums (Hawkwind, Black Sabbath, a touch of King Crimson).

It’s a fun album, filled with groovy bass or guitar patterns that interlock to provide a solid basis for extended instrumental buildups and spontaneous jams. It’s what Motorpsycho are renowned for and indeed it is music that at its best can be transcendental, as the listener is entranced and engrossed by the dazzling playing of the three musicians. There are plenty of moments when this happens on the album, as for instance on the beautiful guitar solo that kicks in five minutes in “A Pacific Sonata”, or in the lengthy trippy affair that goes under the name of “Intrepid Explorer”. Elsewhere, more pastoral and whimsical 70s rock influences emerge from the musical cauldron of The Tower, as in the very CSYN-esque “Stardust” or on “The Maypole”. Meanwhile, the infectious combination of guitar riffs and flute melodies on “In Every Dream Home” is the most exquisitely prog moment of the album, bringing to mind the work of early Canterbury bands like Caravan.

For as much as I enjoy a free-spirited, psychedelic jam-fest, it is actually the more restrained songs like “In Every Dream Home” that Motorpsycho truly captivate me. I love the way this track strikes a perfect balance between instrumental virtuosity and structure. It gives the song a more definite identity which helps me keep my attention focused much better than on other, more free-form tracks on this album. Alas, there are not many moments on the album when this happens, which is why this record remains a bit of an acquired taste for me, and to it I prefer the other two instalments of the trilogy, The Crucible and especially The All Is One, which are less jam-oriented and more structured.

Nevertheless. The Tower remains an impressive album by the Norwegian trio that marks in great style the beginning of a new era for the band, with a new drummer and a renewed love for their heavy psychedelic rock origins. Although this may not be the most revolutionary or path breaking music to play in 2017, the songs still feel fresh and non-derivative. Most importantly, it is clear from listening to the album that the band had a lot of fun writing and playing the music, and the feeling is simply infectious.

[Review also posted on]


Album · 2019 · Non-Metal
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Released in 2019, The Crucible is the second instalment in Motorpsycho’s “Gullvåg trilogy” of albums inspired by the art of painter Håkon Gullvåg, which the band started in 2017 with The Tower and will conclude in 2020 with The All Is One. While exploring similar lyrical themes (living in a polarized society) and moving in similar musical spaces (psychedelic-infused heavy prog), The Crucible stands out relative to the other two parts of the trilogy, in a number of ways.

First, clocking at about 40 minutes, it is by far the shortest album in the trilogy (both The Tower and The All Is One are double-albums that surpass the 80-minute mark). It contains only three tracks, albeit two of them (Lux Aeterna and the title-track) are nearly 11 and 21 minute long, respectively.

Second, it is certainly the heaviest record in the trio of albums. The stoner/doom/heavy prog influences (Black Sabbath above all) that characterized Motorpsycho’s earlier records come back in a very prominent way on this album. This is different from The Tower and, especially The All Is One, which are instead proggier and more rock-oriented. This is not to say that The Crucible is lacking in prog credentials. On the contrary, the angular, fuzz-drenched instrumental acrobatics one can find on “Lux Aeterna” and “The Crucible” (the track) are reminiscent of the furious and fearless experimentation of early King Crimson. The interplay between reeds and guitars on “Lux Aeterna”, for instance, is a particularly striking Crimsonian moment. The pervasive use of the mellotron is another element that brings to mind Robert Fripp’s band. Elsewhere, the vocal harmonies conjured up by Bent Sæther and Hans Magnus Ryan remind us of Jon Anderson (listen for example to when the vocals kick in on the title-track). More generally, Yes’s musical exuberance is another reference point for Motorpsycho’s music. Yet, all these classic prog references are reinterpreted through a heavily metallic lens as well as with a distinct modern approach (Stian Westerhus comes to mind when one listens to the guitar-noise experiments on the title-track), which helps keep things fresh, contemporaneous and non-derivative.

The three tracks are well-balanced between vocal-driven parts and instrumental sections where the band loosens up and engages in long detours that have an improv flavor. There is nevertheless a sense of structure and discipline in the way these tracks are constructed, which makes them easy to assimilate and help the listener to remain focused throughout a song. This is particularly true on the two shorter pieces, “Psychotzar” and “Lux Aeterna”, while the title-track is slightly more meandering and I think it may have benefitted from some fat trimming. Regardless of your level of endurance with lengthy instrumental acrobatics, the level of playing is dazzlingly good throughout the album.

Overall, The Crucible offers an enjoyable musical ride, especially if one is a fan of extended heavy psychedelic jams, which the album offers aplenty. Often this type of composition approach relies on that special spark to light up and infuse the music with magic. And while there are moments on the album where this is certainly the case, and the listener is left engrossed by the experience, elsewhere the approach feels a bit more earthbound and tiresome, which is why I cannot give this album more than three stars.

[Originally posted on]

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lukretion wrote:
57 days ago
Thank you! :-)
Tupan wrote:
59 days ago
UMUR wrote:
59 days ago
Great review and nice to see a new reviewer here :-)


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